Thursday, July 30, 2009


At times I feel identityless. Times when I have not a single answer. Times like this, hours into it, you still howl from your crib. "Moooommmmmmmm!" you scream, your throat raw -- you just won't let it go. And I too am drawn into this drama with no manual, no schooling, no clue. We've read so many books. Sung all our songs. We've tucked every baby and puppy and ballerina into the crib. I've wiped down the counters with ferocity, picked up each apple littering the yard, hauled them up to the compost, my valiant attempts at distraction, at staying away.

Right now there is nothing beyond your crying. I can't pretend that anything I have to do is important. You are having some sort of yelling match with them now. Singing. Screaming.

You are suddenly two and I feel stripped of all power. "Mama!" it hits me in the gut. There is nothing beyond this voice.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

a big, fat dose of perspective

We've been having one of those afternoons. One of those afternoons where Eliana and I have been wrestling through her nap for the past four hours. Where after three rounds of books, four rounds of snacks, two diaper changes, and lots of firm words, she's still yammering away in her crib and I'm still fumbling, unable to focus on a whole lot other than her precious few hours of sleep. During one of her attempts to go down she asked, once again, for me to sing the Barney song. As always, I relented and began. At which point she began inserting the lyrics, "I love Becca, Becca, Becca, Becca...".

Whatever, little silly. Go to sleep.

After that attempt I decided to go outside, even though it's horrendously hot. My theory is that when she knows I'm not lurking around outside her door to hear if she's still yammering away, she yammers more.

I put down my book and called my friend Becca. Elie, for whatever odd reason, had her on the brain and I wanted to share her elevated status with my dear, old friend in Portland.

The first thing she says, "Oh, Gillie! Did you hear the news."

Oh God, I think. It's another one of those things. The planes crashing into the towers. 8.9 on the Richter Scale. A tsunami.

One her best friends had been hit and killed by a drunk 21 year old. Actually the husband of her oldest friend, a friend who I've met a few times over the years when Becca lived in Missoula and Boo would come to visit. A husband and father to their beautiful, about to be four year old who I met a few months after his birth. A husband and father who just finished building their dream home with his hands. On a huge plot of land in Oregon, far from anyone or anything. Where he plows the roads in the winter and she grow veggies in the summer. Where they had a home birth.

Where hundreds of people from across the country will arrive tomorrow for a memorial. Where Becca will take charge for Boo who is now alone. Where people will jump in to help take care of Angus. Where Boo will have to try and sleep at night wondering how in the world she's going to tell her son that Daddy's not coming home.

Becca asked me to call a few of our other mutual Missoula friends to share the news. Jennifer's response after shock and remorse: "Well that's a big, fat dose of perspective."

We all do this. These are our lives. Our dramas. Our day to days. Eliana's sleep has been close to the top point of my day to day radar for the last two years. My ridiculous, Saturday afternoon drama, put in check. Hard.

Right before I called Becca, I had been re-reading Anne Lamott's, Bird by Bird. I've put together this little mama writing group that is meeting for the first time on Monday and I'm nervous. Who am I to think I have the clout to organize this? My poetry degree was earned in 1996 and while I hung in for a few years of extension classes and informal writing groups, I certainly haven't written a poem since I've lived here in Montana. That's going on seven years.

But instead of second guess myself some more, I'm going to quote my girl Lamott:

Writing is about learning to pay attention and to communicate what is going on. Now, if you ask me, what's going on is that we're all up to here in it, and probably the most important thing is that we not yell at one another. Otherwise we'd all just be barking away like Pekingese: "Ah! Stuck in the shit! And it's your fault, you did this..." Writing involves seeing people suffer and, as Robert Stone once put it, finding some meaning therein.

So I find myself back here at Baby Kessler, content to have a place to chronicle all this thick, intensity. This day to day. I find myself thinking about Boo and her clear, beautiful eyes, the honesty in her face, her baby as I remember him, so tiny and pale. I think of Becca and the job she has as best friend to someone who's world has just been completely shattered. I think of my own husband who, at this moment, is choosing to put little pieces of metal into rocks so that he can reach high heights. My own husband who is doing something inherently risky because he believes in living life to it's fullest. How envious I was of my husband today when I wiped the counter down for the sixteenth time, when I changed another dirty diaper.

But these are all those precious moments. The learning to pay attention. The goings on. The big, fat doses of perspective. And I don't really know how to wrap this one up neatly. There's no shiny little ribbon that's going to hold this post together. I guess I just ask myself to remember. Settle into the now. Settle into the beauty. Settle into the words, even if you've already read them hundreds of times. Settle in and focus. Each curl. Each lash. Each new, funny phrase or wacky little gesture. This is it. These are our days. All I have is now.

Friday, July 24, 2009

solo style

Els and I are hanging solo style for the next four days. And as in love as I am with my husband right now and as much as I know that I'm going to miss him to pieces, well, there's a certain simple beauty in being the one and only for your tyke. She's now been asleep for about three hours and I've picked my day's worth of pie cherries, pit every last one of those suckers, and made both savory and sweet dishes to bring to my friend's party tonight. I've watered the yard with a zen like focus, making sure to reach even the furthest points. I've talked on the phone, checked my email, made my bed, matted and framed a new print for my bedroom (I have this new found obsession with my bedroom that resembles that of a thirteen year old girl), cleaned the kitchen.

And now I just hang. Because it's always great to be lead back to the precious present. And waiting to be the one and only for my little honey is such sweet anticipation.

All the partying and shenanigans of last week landed homegirl with another ear infection. Not that we would have known if she hadn't had her two-year old "well" child visit. While she was a bit out of sorts a few days earlier, we thought she was just tired. There are, perhaps, only so many birthday parties a two year old can go to before she simply just can't be social. We blamed the heat for her sour mood and clingy ways.

The next morning we asked Eliana how she was feeling.
"I feel great!" she responded.
So we stopped worrying about it. Perhaps we're over-relying on the articulate nature of our girl.

Anyhoo, when the doctor checked out her right ear she was alarmed at how red it was.

As if we mama's don't blame ourselves enough. I am a particularly excelled guilt glutton. I've been honing my craft for thirty-five years and even have the ability to feel guilty for things completely unrelated to me.

But get your child and her health in the mix, and you can damn near make yourself feel absolutely horrible. This is her fourth ear infection since Christmas. Because I am of the hearing impaired sort, anything involving the ears of my child is of even more paramount importance to me. Jeff and I left the doctor's office feeling deflated. We began to play the blame game, mainly blaming ourselves for pushing Eliana to do too many things.

Too many terrible things like birthday parties or playdates or camping trips or hikes or river rock throwing or bike riding or any other number of beautiful day-to-days that we experience over here in these parts.

So, when you look at it like that, like a full and beautiful life, it's hard to harp for too long. But what it is forcing us to do, though, is hunker down a bit. Hang at home. Limit all the excitement that comes with hanging with the 'lil homies. Go to bed on time.

You know.
Pick a bowl of cherries.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

birthday queen

The birthday recount wouldn't be complete with a few hallmark moments from the big day, pre taco party. I've always been a fool for birthdays and trying to make every moment count on a loved one's special day is of utmost importance to me. Now all of a sudden you are trying to play birthday fairy to someone who you love more than anyone, absolutely, ever, and the stakes are real high. Pressure's on. So of course she delighted in her favorite purple dinosaur, without even having to ask. While sweet Avi and up-in-his-stuff Elie zoned out to all Barney's best jams, Melissa and I got down and dirty in the kitchen, using those few precious child free moments to get stuff done.

When the Barney mystique wore off, we headed outside to open presents. Ms. Chris bought Eliana that gorgeous fairy cape and wand, which went perfectly with the bedazzled "pocketbook" (as Elie coined it) from her Gran, from the Neta's a rockin' art kit and from mama a wooden ABC magnet set for the fridge. Eliana kinda started to get the package ripping open concept and certainly delighted in every generous gift (with a few extra, "MY cape, MY ABC's...") thrown in for good measure. (She kinda started the day in birthday diva mode. We worked through it...)

We then met Casey and Moans at the swimming hole for more birthday love. Elie stripped down fast and worked out all sorts of fancy log climbing moves, which made her daddy all beamy with pride. She and her girl shared some special birthday hugs and kisses, especially after Eliana opened up the beauteous little picture purse with two little shots of the girls, one at two weeks old, the other at almost two. Oh how their love affair brings me nothing but the fullest, giggliest heart!

Tangent...the reason I have copious amounts of time to record this afternoon is because Eliana has been asleep now for almost five hours. And it's 100 degrees out. And I'm exhausted but not enough to completely close my eyes. So I'll continue to ramble on because I'm sure one day I'll appreciate all the silly details.

Oh, and further tangent, the reason she is so exhausted and subsequently taking this insane nap is because:

a) We went on our wacky Glacier getaway last weekend and she didn't really nap much for a few days, cuz she was too busy partying with her parents.

b) Our lovely friends Melissa and Leeor arrived after much heartfelt travel in the middle of the night on Tuesday and stayed through Friday, and so she's had extra excitement with house guests and all. Extra park/carousel/bike/play time with seventeen month old Avi added to the revelry.

c) There were like way too many of her posse members naked and eating carrot cake here on Thursday and she stayed up til almost midnight being goofy.

d -- and hugest of all --) She had her first slumber party last night with Moana! And they actually slept in the same room, Moans in her big girl bed, and Els in her crib and somehow they made it through the night.

Homegirl is recovering...

And somehow I've tangent-ed my way out of this post. It was a full, full day, riding on a full, full week, followed by a full, full Friday because last night was our real anniversary and we went out on a real date with our friends (while the chickens partied with the babysitter). And that has got to be a new post or I'll have completely lost all semblance of organization.

Life is full and lovely and silly and beautiful and we're certainly in full appreciation mode.

fiesta de tacos

photos by nici

So much to report over the past few days! We'll start with the taco party, especially because I have the gorgeous pics Nici took of my girl to share with the world (and, of course, the not-so-gorgeous but sweet nonetheless pics I managed to capture...). As requested, we threw Eliana a taco party. I made massive amounts of rice and "beanies", nectarine and fancy green salad and brie and cherry melty app. Jeff rocked some carne while lovely Melissa made a carrot cake, guac and mojitos. Together it was an easy and fairly stress free affair. Which was really my main goal, because I've noticed I am getting to this funny place in my adulthood where I can spot the seedlings of an entertainer with a propensity for potential stressout-dom. It seems to be something we ladies do as we age. Take shit way more seriously. And I really, really don't want to be that lady. But this was a two year old taco party, damnit. I had to just let it roll.

And roll it did. The little pack of chickens played beautifully in the yard until, next thing I knew, they had all stripped down and were going nutty with the sprinkler and hose. Beautiful, perfect bottoms squealed and danced in the yard, while the big people laughed over their drinks. The bums gathered together for cake and Eliana listened in wide eyed wonder while we sang her the birthday song.

Most folks rocked it on home, but Eliana and her BFF Moans kept the party real late into the night. They sang through their repertoire of songs and did some hokey pokeys. They splashed each other in the tub. They pulled all Eliana's clothes out of her drawers and put on multiple pairs of pants. Best of all, I didn't hear any shouts of, "Mine!" or, "No!" Just their playful, imaginative, blissed out love.

And seeing my girl at her best was all I could have asked for from her.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

two today

This time, two years ago. I had probably moved from pacing and swaying that baby down to the tub and the blaring pulse of the jets. During a contraction my sister and husband and doula would grab another part of my body and dig their fists in. And then I'd relax again.

A few hours from now, my little girl would fly from my body like the wild child she is. Adventurous, determined. She would take my little world, the universe that as I knew it, and shake it up. Hard.

She was so fragile then. Helpless. Teeny. Pink.


Two years have flown by and there she is, and I know her so, so well.
And every part of her is all I could have ever, ever asked for.

Monday, July 13, 2009

celebration getaway

My new recipe for love and health and happy marriage and happy mama: get the heck outta town. We've been in a wacky, whiny little loop around these parts lately. Nothing terrible, but nothing stellar. Jef'f's dubbed me, "Captain Van Buren" and rightfully soon. I've been a little extra bossy, a little extra uptight about stuff that usually doesn't bug me. Like how he never closes the kitchen cabinets. But don't get me started.

So this weekend when our friend Bri invited us on her sailboat on Flathead Lake, it was a sign from above that we needed to get the heck out. Without much of a plan and a shoddily packed vehicle, we hit the highway. There was a funky, disheveled, disorganization about the whole thing. We had a tent, but no toothbrush, sleeping bags but no headlamps. But the plan beyond the boat seemed irrelevant. There was talk of wanting to go up to Glacier, maybe hang in Bigfork where we got married. We celebrate our five year wedding and ten year love affair this coming Friday. That combined with Eliana's bday should be cause for any haphazard road trip.

The boat was perfect. Eliana loved it and wore her captain pants just so, I might add. She didn't get antsy and kept her vest on without complaint. She even went digging in the cabin and found some kickin' topsiders to match her sailor dress. Funny, funny stuff.

We left the boat relaxed and giddy and decided to head north. Els hadn't slept yet, so she promptly passed out, giving us the red light to high tail it up to the park. Which, of course by then, had no campsites. And that, mis amigos, is where the joy of credit cards comes in! Because this was a celebration trip. And god knows we had to have a place to sleep. And greasy spoon diner breakfasts. And smoothies for dinner. The motel outside of the park was overpriced and little and perfect. We all slept together in the king size bed like it was just us against the world.

Our Sunday in Glacier was everything a day in that heavenly park is supposed to be. Crystal, opalescent waters. Private little beaches for throwing rocks and swimming. A gorgeous hike in the snow. Eliana happily finding every single mountain goat within any absurdly huge radius. The day had a sort of halo of perfection around it. Jeff and I treated each other kindly. We didn't snap. I didn't boss. Elie didn't complain. Even when she blew out a ridiculous amount of huckleberry poop on Going-to-the-Sun Road and we had to pull over and wipe out the car seat with wipes (which, thank the good lord, we had remembered to bring) and Jeff almost hit the blow out panic button and the port a potty was locked and we had to bag up all that horrific shit, well, we just sorta handled it. With much more grace than we seem to handle most seemingly mundane things on any normal old day around the house.

Which brings me back to the vacation halo. Maybe it's that whole living in the moment thing. Or remembering to take everything as it comes because you have to. Or maybe it's because Jeff and I had a pretty major talk the night before we left about how much we take each other for granted and how often we forget to be appreciative. About how Captain Van Buren needs to chill and let her beautiful husband just be the man she fell in love with ten years ago.

We decided to celebrate our anniversary early by staying at the hotel where we stayed the night before we got married. It's this funky little place on Flathead Lake called the Islander, each room (all seven or so of them) named after some remote island locale and decorated accordingly. The owner remembered us and gave us the rockin' Zanzibar jacuzzi sweet for almost half price. Eliana had her own, enormous pull out bed in almost another room. And it felt right, on our second night away, to let her sleep on her own, and us together.

We ate dinner on the lake at the Raven where we had our rehearsal dinner. It was perfect. We sipped our drinks and watched Eliana examine rocks, working on her overhand pebble pitch. We told her the story of how we canoed to the dinner from the other side of the bay and made a grand entrance at the party. We told her how her Nana and PopPop threw a big bash at that very restaurant to celebrate the love between her parents. Jeff's never looked as handsome as he did sitting across from me on Sunday evening. Eliana, again, was so present in every move, more complacent and compliant than expected, rolling with each moment, just being there in true vacation mode.

I woke up before sunrise with this profound sense of peace. I couldn't fall back asleep but didn't care. I just wanted to take in all in. Hold on to it all. My almost two year old girl in her huge sofa bed surrounded by cushions, lying horizontally, splayed out like a long, little nut. My husband sleeping soundly, so relaxed, so soft. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.

A huge summer storm blew our way that morning pushing us to move on. The power was out, the wind whipping, just the race to the car left us soaked and giddy. We decided to take the long way home and Jeff found the mountain along the Swan range that we were married beneath. What a reminder to really celebrate. To really remember. These precious memories can get so hazy and befuddled in the ridiculousness of the day to day.

So I hear by declare a new celebration in our family. The birthday/anniversary getaway. The few days devoted to being together, being present, throwing caution to the wind and holding on fast and furious to each other. Because at the end of the day, that's all there is.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

jumpin' jumpin'

A week from today my girl will turn two. This week the enormity of her birthday really hit me. It started with Moana's bday on Tuesday. I always remember Casey being right ahead of me during pregnancy. We would run into one another at the Birth Center, me always surprised that her little one had still not come. Moana was late and Eliana was early. Somehow they ended up just a week apart and BFF to boot. On Tuesday, the morning of Moana's second, I happened upon the cd that my sister made me when Eliana was born. I nursed her to sleep to it every night for the first six or so months. It's full of emotional, dramatic songs that I haven't heard in quite some time. It got me in the gut. I got all weepy and tried to rock and hold Eliana who just said, "Wild, Wild Moanie?, "Happy and You Know It?" wondering why in the world we were listening to something that would make me cry.

Those days feel so far away. I'm so thankful for writing it all down or I would barely believe it even happened. She is such a big girl now. Her latest thing that she does that she (and I) find just hysterical is she climbs into her old exersaucer that lives, dusty, in our basement. She crawls in and says, "Elie a baby!" and laughs and asks to be read to. She then squeezes herself out of it, steps over the side, and repeats the whole routine.

She's a little nut. She loves to laugh and sing and be silly. She loves "popsicle parties" in the yard and will shout a, "Cheers, Mama!" to me as we click our popsicles together.

She climbs up all the big equipment at the park on her own and fearlessly races down slides, screaming with delight in the dark tunnels while her mama anxiously awaits her arrival at the bottom.

She takes her clothes off by the creek and tries to, "Swim like a dolphin." She's so full of radiance and life. So full of all the good things.

I am honored to be her mama, to be able to celebrate her triumphant, graceful first two years.